Following is a question by the Hon Kenneth Leung and a written reply by the Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development, Mr Edward Yau, in the Legislative Council today (December 6):
On the 12th of last month, Hong Kong and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) signed a free trade agreement and a related investment agreement to enhance and strengthen the trade and investment flows between Hong Kong and the 10 ASEAN states. In order to enhance Hong Kong’s profile and promote exchanges between Hong Kong and ASEAN member states, will the Government inform this Council whether it has plans to:
(1) update Hong Kong’s strategies for promoting and publicising Hong Kong’s goods and services to ASEAN member states; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;
(2) further promote the cooperation and exchanges between various organisations in Hong Kong (including think tanks, arts and cultural organisations and non-governmental organisations) and their counterparts in ASEAN member states; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;
(3) re-launch the internship scheme for higher education students to take up internships in ASEAN member states, increase the number of internship places and arrange students to take up internships in organisations of different sectors, as well as enhance the exchanges between students, teachers and academics of Hong Kong and their counterparts in ASEAN member states; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and
(4) launch a subsidy scheme to encourage the public to know more about the cultural and economic development of ASEAN member states and learn their languages, so as to deepen the understanding of the public and local enterprises about those countries; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?
My reply to the four parts of the question is as follows:
(1) At present, the Government has two Economic and Trade Offices (ETOs) in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) region, namely the Jakarta ETO and Singapore ETO. The Jakarta ETO handles matters between Hong Kong and ASEAN as a whole, and enhances bilateral relations between Hong Kong and Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei Darussalam and the Philippines. The Singapore ETO is responsible for strengthening bilateral relations between Hong Kong and six countries, namely Singapore, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam.
The Government attaches great importance to economic and trade relations with ASEAN, and through the recent signing of a Free Trade Agreement and related investment agreement, further consolidates and strengthens the development of economy, trade, investment and service industries of the two sides. With strong economic growth in recent years, ASEAN has become Hong Kong’s second largest trading partner, and a priority target for enhancing our external relations.
To tie in with the negotiation and signing of the above agreements, as well as the promotion of economic and trade co-operation of the two sides in the future, the Government has commenced a series of work, including:
(2) The Jakarta ETO and Singapore ETO strive to maintain close liaison with various organisations (including arts and cultural groups, Hong Kong communities, the media, academia, non-government organisations (NGOs) and think tanks, etc.) in countries under their respective purviews, and foster mutual exchanges through organising and sponsoring a wide range of activities. In 2017, the two ETOs hosted a series of events, including receptions, seminars and exhibitions, etc., to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the establishment of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. The Singapore ETO also sponsored and supported six Hong Kong arts groups to perform in Singapore. Looking ahead, there will be closer relations between Hong Kong and ASEAN and the ETOs will play an increasingly important role.
In addition, the Home Affairs Bureau (HAB) has been organising the Asia Cultural Co-operation Forum since 2003, with a view to enhancing partnerships among governments and fostering cultural co-operation in the Asian region. Each year, the Forum attracted the participation of cultural ministers and senior officials from ASEAN member states and other countries in the region. Delegates exchanged ideas and experience on policies and measures for promoting the development of culture and the arts.
(3) The Singapore ETO has launched the “ASEAN Internship Scheme for Hong Kong Higher Education Students” since 2014, providing opportunities for Hong Kong students to gain experience in the economic and socio-cultural landscape in the ASEAN region. So far, around 600 students have been offered internship places in eight ASEAN member states (Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam), involving some 110 participating organisations which include government organisations, private enterprises, international organisations, academic institutions, think tanks, arts and cultural groups, etc.. The Jakarta ETO and Singapore ETO will continue to actively promote the Scheme and encourage more organisations to participate so as to make available more internship opportunities in the region for Hong Kong students.
To facilitate academic research and exchange of talents as well as promote Hong Kong as a regional education hub, the Government has put in place multiple measures such as government scholarships and relaxed immigration and employment restrictions for non-local students, to encourage students from all over the world, including those from ASEAN member states, to take up full-time study in Hong Kong. We also welcome students to come to Hong Kong for short-term exchanges. In the 2016/17 academic year, 940 students from ASEAN member states studied in the University Grants Committee (UGC)-funded programmes. As at November 2016, the eight UGC-funded universities have signed 70 student exchange agreements and initiated 147 research collaboration projects with higher education institutions in the ASEAN region. We will continue our co-operation with institutions in ASEAN on the basis of our existing work.
Moreover, the Government set up the “Targeted Scholarship” starting from the 2012/13 academic year and established the “Belt and Road Scholarship” starting from the 2016/17 academic year to encourage students from ASEAN member states and other Belt and Road regions to pursue studies in Hong Kong. In the 2017/18 academic year, the Belt and Road Scholarships, which are partly established by private donations, have been made available to outstanding students from Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand.
(4) Through different funding schemes, the Government gives young people an insight into the international economic, social and cultural landscape and enables them to have exchanges with young people overseas. HAB launched the “Funding Scheme for Exchange in Belt and Road Countries” in 2016 and 2017, providing funding support to NGOs for organising exchange programmes to Belt and Road countries (including ASEAN member states), with local young people as the target participants. It aims to promote in-depth exchanges between the young people of Hong Kong and Belt and Road countries, with a view to fostering “people-to-people bond”.
In 2017, HAB also launched the “Funding Scheme for International Youth Exchange” to provide funding support to NGOs for organising in-depth international exchange programmes for young people to broaden their horizons. The Scheme basically covers all overseas countries and regions other than China, including ASEAN member states.